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How to document an API design

The growing demand for APIs also leads to increased demand in ensuring that documentation supporting these APIs is easy to find and understand.

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APIs are designed with the end user in mind. As such, it is crucial at all times to come up with an API that the consumer can quickly implement and understand. However, many APIs are difficult to apply which is contrary to what an API is meant to achieve.

This is why it is vital for developers and businesses to document their API. From making API calls to using API-provided functions and objects, documentation contains the necessary information to help users learn and implement APIs quickly. For example, this file upload service offers a documentation page where developers can easily learn more about using their API to process files.

The designer who builds and designs the API needs to ensure that comprehensive API documentation is available not only to help developers sort out problems and debug connections but at the same time enable the API to feed relevant data every time a consumer makes a call.

Planning is key to API documentation

Part of the planning process includes deciding how to maintain API documentation. This is a crucial step which you should not underestimate because it has proven to be one of the major pitfalls that result in problems with API usability. At first glance, documentation appears to be easy, but many who have undergone the process can attest to the challenges that surround API documentation.

The primary challenge in documentation is not only the appearance consistency but also the streamlined connection between the documentation and the API function as well as remaining in sync with all the latest updates. One of the API documentation best practices is to have an experienced team come up with API documentation that developers will understand easily.

Tips for writing API documentation

The API documentation is not only a reference for developers but also serves to educate the person who uses it. Developers need to be able to find the information they need quickly, while at the same be able to understand the resource and use it in effectively integrating the resource they are working on. Some APIs might also have prerequisites; the Instagram PHP API for example has strict requirements before utilizing it so it is important to address that to developers beforehand. The following are essential steps and requirements of proper API documentation:

  • It clearly explains the purpose of the method or resource
  • Contains call-outs that inform developers about pertinent errors and warnings
  • Sample calls which include the media type
  • A complete list of the parameters needed for the method or resource including the formatting, types, and rules if required
  • Sample responses and the correlating media body types
  • Examples of codes in multiple coding languages
  • An interactive API test call
  • Scenarios and frequently asked questions with code samples for developers
  • Links to other pertinent information and resources such as blogs
  • A comment section for users
  • Additional resources for support

These elements, as well as making sure that the documentation is clear and concise, will ensure that the API documentation is effective and useful.

Tools used in API documentation

In the past, the most common solutions used to document API were available through third-party systems. Although these systems can lead to better documentation consistency, these solutions also tend to be expensive. Open-source specs for developing APIs such as RAML and Swagger provide documentation tools that are ready to use. Each of these specs has unique tools available for developers.

The growing demand for APIs also leads to increased demand in ensuring that documentation supporting these APIs is easy to find and understand.

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